For decades, the core of engineering education has been built on large, dense, and nigh impenetrable textbooks that were handed down from on high. Students were expected to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars to access these resources, at times both integral to the course expectations and disposable such that they couldn’t be resold. In my day, the solution for frugal students was to borrow textbooks from the library or buy the cheapest possible editions from eBay, often with covers in other languages and paper quality that rivaled airport toilet paper. As student resentment built up, professors were forced to offer alternatives in the form of extensive course notes or online resources. Beyond the issue of affordability, which has a relatively simple solution, the conventional textbook no longer offers an effective learning experience to students, especially in the technical fields of robotics and control systems. The simple realization that textbooks are unaffordable and outdated has reached publishers, and with pressure from Vox media and others, the textbook industry has been forced to change or die. This fundamental need for a more progressive and effective learning resource led Quanser to embark on a mission almost a year ago to create the best control systems textbook alternative available.

Enter Experience Controls

experience controls appThis month, we are launching Experience Controls, our control systems textbook app that represents the culmination of over 30 years of control systems teaching innovation, software development, and content creation. I will talk a little about the pedagogical philosophy we defined for the app in my future posts, but today I would like to focus on how our textbook intends to make control systems courses more effective, engaging, and even exciting for students. The textbook covers the essential topics that are a part of standard undergraduate controls courses in a comprehensive, yet comprehensible way. The language is clear and concise, we emphasize concepts using examples and diagrams, and reinforce each topic with clear motivation statements tied to industrial context and applications. Most importantly, key concepts are grounded in practice using interactive real-time simulations that allow students to interact directly with real control plant models. The simulations also include, in some cases, examples that leverage the sensors on the device to give students the ability to truly observe real data and system behavior. Finally, though the app does not require an internet connection, Experience Controls includes a section that allows students to connect directly to remote hardware to observe and tune control parameters on real control plant. But that’s not all. The app also includes mini-lecture podcasts, complete worked solutions, and assessment questions to allow students to check their understanding as they progress through the content. For instructors, we provide Powerpoint slides and a bank of questions and solutions to help easily integrate the textbook into new or existing courses. We will also be creating a series of webinars and newsletters with exclusive content on modern approaches to teaching control systems. ...and it’s FREE...all of it!

What do you think?

We hope that Experience Controls will play an essential role in helping instructors adopt new and progressive teaching methods, including flipped classrooms, blended learning, etc. into their courses in order to change the reputation of the traditional controls courses for the better. Ultimately, we want to continue to improve control systems education for future generations of students, and I believe this app combined with our hardware platforms is a fantastic new foundation for control systems education. We would love for you to try the app and get the instructor resources from the Quanser website. Share the app with your students and make it a part of your course. And please share any feedback you have on the app and user experience with us. Unlike traditional textbooks, you don’t have to wait for years to see updates and additional content as the content will be revised and updated all the time based on your feedback.